Wednesday, January 06, 2010

When it Crains it Pours

In this week's issue of Crain's New York the magazine (subsc.) takes a swipe at the victorious opponents of the Kingsbridge Armory project-again: "The cheers that filled the gallery when the City Council decisively voted down a plan to redevelop the Kingsbridge Armory in the Bronx have now faded. The issue that killed the $310 million development plan so ardently supported by the Bloomberg administration-a guarantee of so-called living-wage jobs-has not. What happens next may be crucial to the city's future, especially to the economically weakest areas of New York. A month after the vote, virtually all those involved are realizing there are only losers here. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the most ardent supporter of prevailing wage, no longer blithely boasts that he will find a new developer for the armory. Business groups, which supported designated developer The Related Companies, have been shown to be weak politically."

Not to mention Crain's itself, which still hasn't quite figured out what happened-and the fact that KARA, the community coalition that has fought years for a neighborhood-friendly vision for the Armory, was victorious when the arrogant developer decided to say, "Screw You," to all that the community had asked for in the development-leaving the fight over the living wage as a rear guard battle for at least some benefit for the local area's residents. And let's not forget the area's supermarkets like MortonWilliams and Jose Frias' C-Town (among 17 others) who had fought to not have to compete against a subsidized mega store. Winners all.

Crain's then asks how the living wage concept, which it thinks is so flawed, got to gain such traction at the council: "The question is: how could a proposal as controversial and flawed as living wage win overwhelming support in the council? The answer lies in the ability of groups like Good Jobs New York and the Working Families Party, with their reassuring names, to dominate public discussion."

Well, Battina Damiani of Good Jobs would be surprised at the accolades-and the WFP had little to do with the Kingsbridge fight. No, the living wage's success at being one of the linchpins of victory, owes more to the mayor than any other single individual or impersonal variable. And in analyzing the losers here, Mike Bloomberg is the one guy truly deserving of the title; because it was his arrogance and tone deafness that propelled opponents to their improbable victory.

And let's not forget the extreme plight of the city's neighborhood small businesses-store owners that have taken it on the chin from a severe recession and from the mayor's car dependent malling of the city. The council was responsive to their plight and was moved to defend their interests when the speaker and the mayor strong armed the Small Business Protection Act to a pocket veto-pike defeat in the face of the overwhelming support of the council rank-and-file. A majority of the Bronx members were supporters and resented the side railing of the bill-a defeat of the Bloomberg mall at the Armory was a form of payback.

So the fight over the Armory was a victory for KARA-and particularly for the RWDSU, a union that has spent the last few years trying to tell the city administration about the problems of low wage retail workers with little visible effect. In the process of winning this battle, the RW has elevated the issue to city wide concern-and emerged as a champion of the working poor. Not too shabby in our view.

But what the Armory battle really signifies is the failure of the Bloomberg economic development policies-policies that have not only failed to stem the tide of unemployment, but that have also exacerbated these trends by taxing and regulating small business into a coma-like state. It is this policy failure-and not the bogeyman Good Jobs New York-that needs to be counteracted if the city is to climb out of its economic malaise.

You'd think that a business magazine would get this. But Crain's, consumed by a victory of a grass roots coalition in the Bronx, loses sight of the miserable economic reality that has been fostered by an out of touch billionaire-and in the process elevates itself to one of the big losers of the battle over the Kingsbridge Armory.